(In)Fighting for East Austin’s kids: Grant applications for Promise Neighborhood planning due today

Okay, an amendment to a previous post…

Backstory: In March, I wrote a post about Southwest Key’s efforts to improve the educational opportunities and help strengthen the community for the people living where Southwest Key lives, Central East Austin around the former Johnston High School, now Eastside Memorial High School.

In that post, I talked about learning how Southwest Key established the East Austin Children’s Promise, which it modeled on the Harlem Children’s Zone. The HCZ itself serves as a model for the federal government’s new Promise Neighborhoods planning grants, which will offer about $500,000 to about 20 community efforts like HCZ around the country. Southwest Key — the Juan Sanchez team — is applying for a planning grant.

A few weeks after writing that post, I had lunch with Allen Weeks, a community organizer who lives in the St. John’s neighborhood in Northeast Austin, and has also worked to improve educational opportunities and help strengthen the community for people living where he lives. The Weeks team has organized a large collaboration to apply for a Promise Neighborhoods planning grant as well, this one for the Northeast Austin neighborhood around Reagan High School.

I wondered if it helped or hindered Austin’s chances to have two grant applications competing among the 900+ nationwide. And regardless of that, does the competition help East Austin?

Applications due today: Recent Statesman news stories, editorials and blog posts about the Promise Neighborhoods planning grants pick Weeks’ team over Sanchez’, saying that the former effort was better planned and includes more heavy-hitting collaborators, including AISD, UT, City of Austin, St. David’s Foundation, United Way Capital Area and more. They also criticize the Sanchez team for not being as well prepared and for being sore losers.

All this just substantiates the point I was trying to make in my March blog post: In a city the size of Austin and considering the plight of so many East Austin students, are we really allowed infighting? Still?

I think even AISD Superintendent Maria Carstarphen said something along those lines, too. At the same time, though, Carstarphen inherited what many believe to be a history of AISD’s inability to address the educational needs of East Austin.  Maybe the AISD of the past could have evolved its approach to account for the increasingly diverse and urban population?

AISD needs to do that now, and working with both Promise Neighborhood grant applicants should be a top priority. I’d love to know exactly what each team was asking from AISD. “Support” can come in many forms; surely AISD can support two efforts in some way.

I’d also love to know more about why the Statesman thinks the Northeast Austin proposal was stronger. It’s been reported that Southwest Key didn’t submit its proposal to AISD until the last minute, in June, but it was also reported that Sanchez said he’d been trying to meet with Southwest Key for months. And it’s not like AISD didn’t know about Southwest Key’s charter  school; the East Austin College Prep academy enrolled 90 6th-graders in 2009 and now has a waiting list for its 6th and 7th grades.

The only amendment I can add to this story is, maybe Carstarphen needs to include AISD among her mention of the infighting adults.

PS 1: Here’s a listing of some of the communities Austin is up against. There were 941 “intents to apply.” The grant applications are due today, June 28. Grants will be made available this September.

PS 2: Also, here’s what I read for fun on a Sunday night: A link to the PDF of FAQs about the Promise Neighborhoods planning grant applications.

PS 3: After spending hours with both Weeks and Juan Sanchez, Southwest Key’s CEO, I got the impression I was looking at two sides of the same coin. Both are effective and passionate community leaders, but each approaches their work with completely different strategies. It’s worth getting to know both of them better to learn which of their two distinctively different leadership styles is more effective for East Austin in the long run.

Will Austin lose a fantastic opportunity to help East Austin for a completely asinine reason?

Is it possible that after three years of immersing myself in the Central Texas nonprofit community – as part of our mission to bring more Central Texans into philanthropy – that  I am still completely clueless about how the system actually works. And I don’t mean I don’t understand a process, I mean I don’t understand how things work in the real world, which means that no matter how well meaning people are, they are still, in fact, people.

So please help me understand what’s going on in East Austin right now…..

1. Monica meets Southwest Key

The latest example of my naivete started with my visit to Southwest Key. You’ve heard of this place, right? You’ve seen them on the business journal’s list of the largest nonprofits in Central Texas (Southwest Key is number four). But what exactly do they do?

SWK started as a program to keep young people in San Antonio out of jail. Kids were being arrested and incarcerated for minor infractions when they really just needed some adult support in their lives. SWK founder, Juan Sanchez, swooped in to create programs that supported the kid and his whole family, really. Kids weren’t committing new crimes, not going back to jail, and the program was a success.

Soon, other cities started to ask him to set up programs for their communitiess, and Southwest Key was born. Today there are 55 programs with more than 1,000 employees in 7 states with an operating budget of $58 million from government grants, foundations, corporations and private donations. Sanchez is, by all accounts, on a mission and a positive force in the community.

2. Clearly, Southwest Key is committed to East Austin

In fact, he’s so committed to Hispanics and the economically disadvantages and, as he calls them, “kids,” that he moved his headquarters there. In 2007, Sanchez and his board completed construction of its national headqaurters, the East Austin Community Development Center, right across the street from the now-closed Johnston High School in the Govalle/Johnston Terrace neighborhood. The exact location was deliberate: This neighborhood needed an anchor, and Sanchez wanted to provide that.

At one point, people from Southwest Key went door-to-door asking residents what their neighborhood needs the most, what their children need the most. Not surprisingly, what they said was: a better education. (Obvious, right?)

3. Southwest Key’s promise to East Austin kids

This past school year, SWK opened the East Austin College Prep Academy. The open enrollment charter school will provide the first middle school class since Allen Junior High closed in the 1980s, a move that left the Govalle/Johnston Terrace neighborhood without a middle school.

The school  is small but really beautiful, with modern architecture and inspirational artwork, all in all a wonderful environment for that really awkward stage of adolescence. The “kids” are really proud of their school, and it shows. In fact, the whole headquarters is like an oasis to the blight around it.

(I keep putting “kids” in quotes because that’s how Sanchez talks about them. Not “at-risk youth” not “economically disadvantaged” not “impoverished.” In fact, he’s one of the rare nonprofit leaders I’ve met who doesn’t speak in “nonprofitese,” that politically correct, exacting language that may be polite but also keeps poor people at a safe distance.)

All this still makes sense to me, though it’s hard for me to get my head around all Southwest Key does – and why so few people realize the impact it’s having on one of the weakest links in the Austin school system. And Sanchez… why does he have such a low profile around Austin but a very high profile for his work everywhere else?

4. The Academy is modeled on a Harlem school

The middle school didn’t spring from the mind of Sanchez, who’s fiercely intelligent but also knows enough to take advantage of proven education models  to adapt to East Austin’s particular situation. In fact, the model the school’s based on is The Harlem Children’s Zone, a renowned program in New York City that operates an integrated system of education, social services and community-building programs to help children achieve their full potential. The whole system being build by Southwest Key is called the East Austin Children’s Promise.

Sanchez has been following the Harlem Children’s Zone model for years, and in fact, raised the money to build and launch the middle school East Austin so badly needs. Even more has been raised to add a high school, with plans for an elementary school, preschool and more programs that integrate community-building and education.

5. Obama’s plan to grow more Promise Neighborhoods

Southwest Key recognized a strong model in Harlem Children’s Zone – and so did the Obama administration. In fact, earlier this year, Obama signed a law to create funding for more HCZ or “Promise Neighborhoods.” The initial funds will allow for up to 20 planning grants of $500,000 each. Southwest Key is ready to apply for that funding to take its already established “Promise” neighborhood to the next level.

Great, right? I mean, Austin will have to compete with other cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit and just about every other city in the county, all of which have a much bigger reputation for bad neighborhoods. After all, Austin is known for being a great place to party and listen to music, not really for the work its doing to improve its schools.

But here’s what makes me realize how complicated our little city can be.

There are two communities from Austin applying for the Promise Neighborhood planning grant. One proposal will come from Southwest Key, the other will come from a group called the Austin Promise Neighborhoods Planning Team, which focuses on the north east Austin neighborhood near Reagan High School. Think both efforts will receive a planning grant? Most likely, only one will. So the two proposals – and really neighborhoods – will, in fact, compete with each other.

Sorry? Why are there two? Wouldn’t you think they’d combine efforts to make one strong proposal from East Austin? And wouldn’t you think they’d rally behind Southwest Key because they have, in fact, already created a Promise Neighborhood?

The organization that does win the $500,000 planning grant “would then receive multiyear financing from the U.S. Department of Education to take the program to scale – if they are able to raise matching funds from private or local government sources,” according to the Statesman. Whatever neighborhood wins, it will need to funnel all the money through a single organization to administer the grants.

6. East Austin vs. East Austin?

Now, Southwest Key already administers millions of dollars in government grants. It already has programs in place modeled on the Promise Neighborhoods pilot. And it has established its commitment to the Govalle/Johnston neighborhood by locating its headquarters there. So when the other organizations in Austin decided to go after this funding, why didn’t they get behind the Southwest Key effort?

The other effort is a big one. Almost everyone in Austin is behind the Austin Promise Neighborhoods Planning Team: City of Austin, Austin ISD, University of Texas, Seton Family of Hospitals, Austin/ Travis County Health and Human Services, LifeWorks, Foundation Communities, Communities in Schools, St. John Community School Alliance, E3 Alliance, United Way of the Capital Area, Sooch Foundation, Webber Family Foundation, Capital Area Council on Governments, East Side Social Action Coalition, and many elected officials, according to the Sooch Foundation. But they do not have the foothold that Southwest Key has.

So is this really Austin versus Southwest Key? Are we really pitting one East Austin neighborhood against another? And can somebody give me a really good reason why we have two teams?

I know there was an initial contact made to go to Washington D.C. as a team. I know at some point there was a decision to not work as a team. I know both neighborhoods really need a concerted, well financed effort to overcome the terrible conditions they’re in. But both teams can’t win. Where’s the collaboration, Austin?

Feria Para Aprender: The biggest Austin education event you’ve never heard of

Feria Para Aprender Austin

When I first heard about Feria Para Aprender, I was shocked. How is it that I don’t know about an education fair in Austin attended by 15,000 Spanish-speaking Austinites in its three years?

Am I the only one in Austin who didn’t know about this? Apparently it was brought to Austin Partners in Education by Hispanic leader Sylvia Acevedo, and it caught on like wildfire. Wow. Here’s some background about Feria from their Facebook page: (Become a FAN!)

Overview: Feria Para Aprender is an education fair for Spanish-speaking parents and students in the greater Austin community. This one-day event brings together over 75 non-profit organizations, school district departments and universities to spread the message that education is the key to economic prosperity.

strong>Mission: Over the last 3 years, Feria Para Aprender has reached over 15,000 Spanish-speaking parents and students by providing educational resources and materials entirely in Spanish. Feria Para Aprender has also raised awareness of the need for bilingual staff members in local non-profit organizations.

Feria Para Aprender spreads the “Para Una Buena Vida” message:

1. Graduate from high school and earn $1 million in your lifetime.
2. Graduate from college and earn an additional $1 million in your lifetime.
3. Learning English and Spanish fluently will give you more employment opportunities and higher salaries.

How you can get involved: Feria Para Aprender couldn’t happen without the support of hundreds of volunteers. Volunteers are need throughout the day on Friday, February 5 to help set up activities and equipment as well as sort the thousands of donated books. Spanish-speaking volunteers are encouraged to volunteer at the event to help guide parents and facilitate the numerous activities around the Expo Center grounds.

Please visit www.austinpartners.org/feria-para-aprender to register for as an exhibitor or a volunteer.

For more information, please contact Christin Alvarado at calvarado@austinpartners.org.

Real progress! East Austin doing something about drop-outs


Imagine having no middle school for your child. That’s the situation for many East Austin families. A new middle school not only fills that void, it creates an innovative learning environment that prepares these kids for college – not just high school but college.

Tomorrow night (November 5), Southwest Key will host an open house for the East Austin College Prep Academy. They’re very proud. And they want everyone to attend.

We had a feature about mentoring and middle school and drop-out rates in AISD in our latest issue (download it here). Frankly, the numbers scare the hell out of me. And if you plan to raise a family in Austin, they should scare you, too.

Great news: Not only can you do something about it, others are doing something about it, too.

Southwest Key has a weird name but you should get to know them because they are the largest Hispanic-serving nonprofit in Austin. They started this middle school where there was none, and it’s going to make a huge difference in Austin’s Hispanic community.

We talked to John Turner, the Interim Director of Communications for Southwest Key.

1. This year there were 90 sixth graders that started the academy. Next year you’ll have a seventh grade and then an eighth grade campus. Who are these students and what middle schools/high schools would they otherwise attend?

We are based in the Govalle/Johnston Terrace neighborhood in East Austin, a neighborhood that has not had a middle school for many years. As there is no local middle school, the students were being bused out to middle schools in other parts of the city.

 Our students come from 26 different schools in Austin and have chosen our school because it is based on the highly successfully YES college prep model that has been ranked among the top 100 schools in America by US News & World Report

 2. Why a middle school? Wouldn’t a college-prep program focus on high school students?

There’s a number of reasons why a middle school. We canvassed the local community and parents, and they overwhelmingly requested a middle school. Many parents found it hard to get involved with their kids education due to the busing, so housing the school in our community center made a lot of sense.

We also analyzed research about at what stage was the best place to start affecting education and the drop-out rates, and it was apparent that starting with middle school would have a greater benefit and impact for local kids and families. 

3. So at this open house tomorrow, what can we expect to see?

All of the classrooms and facilities will be open, visitors will also be able to talk to the principal Dr. Nellie Cantu, school staff about the curriculum and approach, and hear from Southwest Key CEO, Dr. Juan Sánchez, about our future plans to expand quality education alternatives in East Austin.  

(Editor’s note: I heare there will also be food and drinks….)

4. I want to support your work with this middle school/academy. What are some ways I can get involved?

We always need advocates and supporters for our approach, which is simply providing an alternative quality education for children in East Austin.

Volunteers are welcome for the many after-school and other support programs, (the Boys and Girls Club is also housed here), offering to host field trips for the students service projects, and donations of school supplies are most welcome too! 

For more information, please contact Victoria Gutierrez at vgutierrez@swkey or 512-583-2567.



Open House
Thursday, November 5, 2009

6002 Jain LaneAustin, TX 78721


Appetizers, wine and hors d’oeuvres, performance, and more!


Austin African Americans, go get that scholarship money!

Heard about this via the Community Action Network e-newsletter, which actually linked to the Austin Juneteenth Celebration (June 19) website…

If you’re currently mentoring or supporting an African-American or Hispanic student, please let them know about the numerous opportunities for college scholarships.

Below are listed almost 50 scholarship and aid opportunities for African-American and Hispanic students. Please spread the word and help someone you know earn scholarship money for college.


Even if you do not have a college-aged child at home, please share this with someone who does, and to anyone and everyone that comes to mind. Though there are a number of companies and organizations that have donated money for scholarships to African Americans, a great deal of the money is being returned because of a lack of interest or awareness.

No one is going to knock on our doors and ask if we can use a scholarship.

Take the initiative to get your children involved! Money shouldn’t be returned to donating companies because we fail to apply for it.

Please pass this information on to family members, nieces, nephews, friends with children etc. We must get the word out that money is available. If you are a college student or getting ready to become one, you probably already know how useful additional money can be.


2.) Student Inventors Scholarships 

3.) Student Video Scholarships

4.) Coca-Cola Two Year College Scholarships

5.) Holocaust Remembrance Scholarships

6.) Ayn Rand Essay Scholarships 

7.) Brand Essay Competition

8.) Gates Millennium Scholarships

9.) Xerox Scholarships for Students

10.) Sports Scholarships and Internships

11.) National Assoc. of Black Journalists Scholarships

12.) Saul T. Wilson Scholarships (Veterinary)

13.) Thurgood Marshall Scholarship Fund

14.) FinAid: The Smart Students Guide to Financial Aid scholarships

15.) Presidential Freedom Scholarships 

16.) Microsoft Scholarship Program

17.) Wired Scholar Free Scholarship

18.) Hope Scholarships & Lifetime Credits

19.) William Randolph Hearst Endowed Scholarship for Minority Students

20.) Guaranteed Scholarships

21.) BOEING scholarships (some HBCU connects)

22.) Easley National Scholarship Program

23.) Maryland Artists Scholarships

24.) Jacki Tuckfield Memorial Graduate Business Scholarship

25. ) Historically Black College & University Scholarships

26.) Actuarial Scholarships for Minority Students

27.) International Students Scholarships & Aid Help

28.) College Board Scholarship Search

29.) Burger King Scholarship Program

30.) Siemens Westinghouse Competition

31.) GE and LuLac Scholarship Funds

32.) CollegeNet ‘ s Scholarship Database

33.) Union Sponsored Scholarships and Aid

34.) Federal Scholarships & Aid Gateways 25 Scholarship Gateways from Black Excel

35.) Scholarship & Financial Aid Help

36.) Scholarship Links (Ed Finance Group)

37.) FAFSA On The Web (Your Key Aid Form &Info)

38.) Aid & Resources For Re-Entry Students

39.) Scholarships and Fellowships

40.) Scholarships for Study in Paralegal Studies

41.) HBCU Packard Sit Abroad Scholarships (for study around the world)

42.) Scholarship and Fellowship Opportunities

43.) INROADS internships

44.) Olympics of the Mind Scholarships

45.) Black Alliance for Educational Options Scholarships

46.) ScienceNet Scholarship Listing

47.) Graduate Fellowships For Minorities Nationwide


49.) The Roothbert Scholarship Fund

“I am heartbroken over what has happened on East 11th Street. I fear that it just might be too late.”


In  GivingCity Issue #2, we interviewed three African-American social entrepreneurs to get their opinions on East Austin, gentrification, and being African American in Austin.

I was a little worried about running that interview. What worried me is that I had never heard anyone say these things before. Yes, I’m a little naive and ignorant about East Austin issues, so maybe none of it was news; but I also worried about things like fact-checking and getting the other side of their stories.

But then I figured … you know, we’ve heard the other side of their stories. I’m just going to give these guys some space and hear what they have to say. So I just had the interview transcribed and just got out of their way.

This is an excerpt from that story. To read the whole thing – and see some gorgeous portraits taken by Austin photographer (who still shoots film!) Owen Laracuente – download GC2.


Michael Lofton, Director of The African- American Men and Boys Harvest Foundation
Lofton is a community leader who has worked for many years on behalf of the African-American community in Austin, with a particular emphasis on education and mentoring.

What inspires me is the salvation of the kids. It bothers me to no end to see 56 percent of our kids dropping out. Because you have to realize that when you have 50 to 60 percent of the kids dropping out, and the stats are 6 out of 10 that don’t graduate will end up in jail, we as a community need to come together and address not only the community but address the educational systems and try and bring in whatever social service programs needed in order to turn the kids around.

Kids have lost hope in the educational system. Too often kids recognize the disparity in the disciplinary process. But that is what prompted us to start hosting the African-American Men and Boys Conferences, because we saw so much disparity in the disciplinary process in putting our kids in the juvenile system.

Now, you’ve got tons of kids that are coming out of high school with a criminal record already. And it’s sad that as big as Austin is, we only have 280 African- American males in the 12th grade right now, and how many of those are going to graduate?

So what I’m saying is the community is going to have to come together to talk to our young men, talk to our young ladies, and find out what the problem is, and give them those strategies to deal with things that they don’t have somebody at home to talk to them about.

Gator, Co-Founder of The Cipher
Gator is a hip hop and spoken word artist, community activist, and youth leader.

I’m a native of Austin, and I’ve stayed in East Austin and Northeast Austin all my life. I’m only 22, and I didn’t develop a conscience at about community until recently, you know. But I remember the Juneteenth festivals and how they used to be, and just seeing a lot of African-Americans come together; it was real positive back then. You had more adults involved in that process.

When you fast-forward to today, it’s just not what it used to be. I see the gentrification and the effect that it’s having on the people. A lot of youth, when they see it happening they don’t really know what’s going on and don’t realize that it’s going to have an effect on their lives.

But there are a lot of community organizations involved in educating the youth, for example Michael’s organization and our organization. We try to get Eastside kids involved, because they don’t feel like school is that important anymore.

On the other side of I-35 it’s totally different, and at those schools they have more to work with. In our schools, some of them, it’s different. Like Reagan, for example, that’s the school that I went to; I remember a time where Reagan was full of pride, and it was just the school to be at. And now it comes to a point to where it’s almost sad.

It’s like what Michael was saying about the dropout rate—they just don’t feel like school is that important anymore. You have to question that and why do they think that.

Harold McMillan, Founder/Director of DiverseArts Production Group
McMillan is a nonprofit producer of multidisciplinary art and culture projects and programs, and has been involved and active in Austin’s art and music community for the past 20 years.

The black community has to do a lot of that. And like I said, I hate to be cynical and jaded, but my area of interest and expertise is cultural history and cultural preservation, that piece of a community’s life. And I am heartbroken over what has happened on East 11th Street and what’s not happening on East 12th Street at Rosewood. And I fear that it just might be too late—it just might be gone.

As the population declines, as the African- American population inside the city of Austin declines and that money goes in this wave, two waves ago many of the foundation bedrock families of central East Austin that actually do and did have money, they moved out, too.

Part of my disappointment is that many of those people that really do or I think should have an emotional stake in the community took their money with them, too. We can blame the gentry for coming in and developing on East 11th Street. But we can also blame moneyed black folks whose families grew up in that neighborhood who walked away a long time ago and never brought their money back. You know, that’s really disappointing to me.

Langston Hughes has a poem that has a line in it: “Lord have mercy, they done stole my blues.” Sometimes you give your blues away. And I am disheartened by the high rate that people are cashing out and just getting out of the community. It will never be the same, we know that—we can’t stop progress. But there’s a legacy of a rich culture there that’s being trampled on right there that hurts me.

Buy a mug, get free coffee for a week! Benefits East Austin elementary school

Do you buy coffee at any of these fine Austin establishments?

Texenza Coffee (10 locations)
JP’s Java
Caffe Medici
Hot Mama’s
Bossa Nova
Genuine Joe
Flipnotics (2 locations)
Little City

If so, consider buying a super-cute, holiday-themed mug created by a student from UT’s Elementary School in East Austin.

Coffee for Education benefits The University of Texas Elementary School’s nurse’s office and medical supplies.  The fundraiser brings a select group of independent Austin coffee houses together to raise money for The UT Elementary School in East Austin.  UTES provides exemplary education to a mostly low income and minority population of children.  The school is distinguished by its innovative teaching methods, giving these children an outstanding education.

To support these children and the school, just stop into a participating local coffee house to pick up your Coffee for Education mug.  The fun holiday art on the mug was drawn by one of UTES’s very own students.  Each mug also has a handmade gift tag that is personally signed by a student – SO cute and a GREAT gift idea!

Mugs will be available for purchase December 4th through Christmas and are only $15 each.  Early buyers will also receive a FREE cup of coffee DAILY for one week when they bring their mug into one of the participating coffee houses during the week of December 7-13th.

100% of the purchase price will benefit UTES.  In the spirit of Christmas, this is truly a gift that gives.